Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Sick as a pig

Listening to: winding up to Hogmanay

Christmas morning in the bottom field and Briggsy the porker isn't a happy boy. He strolls out of the hut (he's normally out like a greyhound from a trap), he looks at the food I've so kindly put out, he yawns, he sips out of the bucket, he sniffs around the place and wanders back into the shed before snuggling down for a kip.

Hoping it's an off-day, the pig "farmer" puts some extra straw in the hut, tops up the water buckets and goes off to stuff his face.

Boxing Day brings no change and the next day Marcus visits to give the lad an anti-biotic jab. Sure enough, 24 hours later, Briggsy (second left on the header pic) is back to his old self.

The irony is that, in a matter of two or three weeks, Briggsy is off to Kirkwall for his. . .err. . . "conversion" into chops, joints etc.

I was concerned about Briggsy being unhappy, but maybe I was concerned about £300-worth of pork - this pig-farming lark brings up all sorts of dilemmas and stuff I'm clearly going to have to get used to dealing with.

I'm daft about the pigs. I want them to be happy and healthy, but I'm just as ready to send them off to slaughter. Bit weird, isn't it?

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Dukes of Westray

Listening to: Chas 'n' Dave's support act

It was an exciting weekend. We had high winds on Friday and Sunday and, as I drove around the island on Monday, there was the sound of hammering and drilling as repairs were made.

We got off relatively lightly. The door of the static caravan lost a hinge, but I managed to put it back together with a little help.

Biggest casualty was our venerable Land Rover Lennox. On Friday night, just as the storm was brewing, I returned from the village and opened the door, only to have it wrenched from my grasp by a fierce gust. The ageing, rusting hinge gave the Land Rover equivalent of *sigh* "ohferfuckssake" and crumbled, leaving the door hanging at a jaunty angle.

With the wind whistling around my ears, I forced the door shut and further inspection the following morning revealed slightly more rust than door.

I've no idea if it can be fixed, but I strongly suspect I'll have the door welded shut and get in and out Dukes-of-Hazzard style through the window - a bit tricky with my knees the way they are.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Guess who's coming to dinner?


I was feeling quite pleased with myself. We'd managed to deal with a couple of wind-related crises, Tommy Ramone (having met a quick and quiet end) was butchered and I had already trousered some of The Bank of Scotland's crispest as a result.

Work on the kitchen had made great advances during the week, Mrs Pig "Farmer" was set to make a weather-delayed return to the island to start her Christmas holliers - yep, I was in a good mood.

I'd been to the village and returned to find the front door and kitchen door wide open - not a good idea in a howling gale, I'm sure you'll agree.

Spike was hovering about, looking very worried and not a little confused. There was a disturbance at the other end of the kitchen and I was a bit surprised to see Molly the sow tucking into the veg peelings bucket.

My stepdaughter Amy responded to my pitiful plea for help and between us we ushered Moll back to the pigshed where she'd previously shifted the barrier (a telegraph pole, pallet and two sheep hurdles strapped together) and wandered through the door the pig "farmer" had carelessly left open.

Straw and feed was distributed liberally, the pig "farmer" screwed in a few more pieces of wood to secure the barrier before collapsing into a chair.

I bloody hate windy days.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Tommy Ramone's last journey

Listening to: ZZ Top

Tough day for the pig "farmer" tomorrow, even tougher for one of his pigs. It's slaughter time.

The biggest of the porkers will be loaded up tomorrow morning, ready for the trip that will end in him joining us (and several other Westray families) for Christmas dinner.

I've been through this once before, last June when Eric and Ernie fulfilled their destiny, and it doesn't look like getting any easier.

If anything it's harder as I've known this batch of pigs since birth. I've spent so many hours with them, I know each one of them and I've got maybe a bit too close. I have this mad urge to rush into the pigshed and give him a hug.

My hilarious friends have long been of the opinion that I'm too soft-hearted for livestock farming, but I suppose it's inevitable to feel this way when I have only a few animals on our little eight-acre croft. A proper farmer with 100-plus cattle or sheep and a lifetime's experience must find it easier to be less sentimental about his beasts.

I'm not about to go all veggie (if you have an hour or five, I'll bore you with the argument), but I'm having to convince myself that I'd rather have my Christmas dinner from a pig that I know has been well-cared for, has had warm, dry straw to sleep on every night, has been well fed and watered, has had regular back scratches and tickles behind the ears, has had plenty of room to snuffle around in and goes to slaughter in tip-top condition.

Power cut

Listening to: KT Tunstall

. . . and then the electric blanket stopped working.

Bugger.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Roasty toasty

Listening to: Glasvegas

Mrs Pig "Farmer" lay back and exclaimed: "Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, that's so good."

"Everything all right dear?" asked the pig "farmer", peering around the door of the little touring caravan in the barn that serves as our master bedroom.

"Mmmmmmm, oh yes," said Sal, a look of extreme pleasure on her face.

"Is it the new electrical appliance?" I ventured.

"Yes, yes, yes."

"C'mon then, let me have a go. . . oh yes indeed!"

Aren't electric blankets great?

Monday, 8 December 2008

Castaway

Watching: Taggart
It seems there's: been a murrduur
Hang on: there's been another
They've only: got an hour to solve it

Forgot to mention this a week or so ago, but was reminded by a warning put out on Radio Scotland this morning.

'Don't touch baby seals' was the message, 'even if they appear to be abandoned'.

While out for a healthy walk, The Boy and myself found this little fella. . .


. . . all alone on a nearby beach. Owen went close for a sniff, but was called away, while Spike strained at the lead, eager for a change from hens and rabbits.

He'd obviously been left at high tide and was a good 20 yards from the water with no adult seals to be seen.

He didn't seem to be hurt and kind of growled and hissed as we went past him, so we left well alone - nice to be right once in a while.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

A walk on the Westside

Listening to: This
Just: an excuse to show some pictures

A mad-busy week in the kitchen. Electric Eric has ripped out wiring that was threatening to burn the place down and installed a new ring main. He did explain, but I find it near impossible to get that sort of thing to stick in my brain.

Better still, we stuffed the loft with insulation and set about lining the walls with a sort of tinfoil bubble wrap and making a start on putting up the tongue and groove.

The result is a kitchen that is warm for the first time this winter and a feeling of immense smugness for the pig "farmer" who has learned half-a-dozen new things about DIY.

So he treated himself to a day off today - routine animal husbandry excepted - and went for a walk, faithful hounds in tow.

I'm particularly fond of the west side of the island, imaginatively called Westside. It's a little rougher round the edges than where we live towards the south-east, more of what outsiders would expect of a Scottish island*.

This. . .


. . . is a smashing little beach, one of my favourites anywhere.

This. . .


. . . is an Iron Age broch attached to Westray only by some slippery rocks. It featured on the Discovery Channel earlier this year.

Spike took the chance to indulge in his favourite hobby. . .


. . . and. . .


. . . while Owen, the dog with no 'off' button, stopped briefly. . .


. . . and the pig "farmer" enjoyed the views and the solitude. . .



* Whether Orkney is genuinely Scottish is debateable. Norwegian until the mid-15th century, you always feel a long way from shortbread and Pringle jumper country here. My great grandfather apparently took great exception to being called Scottish.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Holidays in the Sun

Listening to: Dark Moon High Tide (Afro Celt Sound System)
Weather today: bright, sunny, cold
Let's go: on a rambling rant

I'm a great shouter at the telly. Mrs Pig "Farmer" has banned me from watching BBC Breakfast or any of the once-great corporation's news output - especially the weather forecast with that stupid, slanty map that makes Scotland look smaller than Basingstoke.

However, she's away on a two-week pre-Christmas visit to Porkscratchingsville, so I relished the chance to let The Beeb have both barrels. And did I find an appropriate victim? Not 'arf mate.

The woman was in her sixties, maybe a healthy seventysomething. She had glasses and a 'couldhavecomefromanywheresouthofWarwickalthoughnottheWestCountryobviously' accent. Daily Mail reader - I can sniff 'em out from miles away.

This dreadful harridan was looking down her nose at the world in general while complaining that her holiday to Thailand had been ruined by the blockade of Bangkok airport by anti-Government protesters - she got home a couple of days late.

What infuriated me was that she dismissed the protesters as "stupid children". Bloody hell, I thought people like that died out with the Raj.

I told her exactly what I thought and stomped off into the kitchen where an American bloke was whineing that he was going to miss Thanksgiving because of "some cock-a-mamey protest". I didn't know anyone other than saloon girls in 1930s Westerns said "cock-a-mamey". Several other interviews since have followed a similar vein.

I don't know about you, but I'm incredibly depressed by the arrogance and ignorance of "Westerners" whose pleasure and happiness has to come before all else.

We swan around the world like we own the bloody place, treating other people's homes like a theme park, making no effort to understand the countries and people we come into contact with, should we ever get our fat arses off the sunbed.

I don't know the details of the Thailand crisis, but it seems the government is more than a little dodgy, not especially keen on elections and many folk want to have the chance to choose between them and another bunch of crooks. We'll get to make a similar decision in a year or two.

Whether you agree with the argument or not, it's every human being's right to protest peacefully. The alternative is the nightmare of Mumbai.

In Britain - and, I suppose, much of Europe and America - we've been bought off. The majority have their gadgets and gizmos, their cars, their fridge-freezers, widescreen tellys, satellite dishes, reality TV shows, readymeals and, of course, our foreign holidays.

Since the Unions were emasculated by Thatcher and Labour abandoned the working people in favour of sucking up to the big corporations there has been little focus for protest by those other than zealots. The only recent example of British people protesting en-masse was when nearly a million people walked (very slowly) through London in an attempt to stop two religious fundamentalists declaring war on Iraq.

I was there with the not-yet Mrs Pig "Farmer". We knew it was pointless. Blair had his chain mail on and was ready to do battle with the heathen. In America, the neo-cons were salivating.

But we were there, we stood up, shuffled two or three miles and had our say, exactly as the folk in the yellow shirts are in Thailand. More power to their collective elbow, I say.

I'm sure if I'd got to Bangkok airport only to find I couldn't get anywhere near Starbucks, I'd had have been a bit peeved, but I hope I would have been broad-minded enough to tolerate a peaceful political statement by people from the country in which I had been a guest. Maybe I'd even have had the imagination to sit back and watch a little bit of history. Maybe.

What the hell does "cock-a-mamey" mean, anyway?

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Are you being served?

Listening to: Oasis on Channel 4
Is: Liam going bald?
Actually: he looks a bit like Peter Cook these days

Good news! Molly has come into season and, having kept Boss hanging on a bit, the deed is being done, possibly as you read this.

So, assuming Boss has the right amount of lead in his pencil, we could have piglets in three months, three weeks, three days - which I reckon to be Tuesday March 24.

Otherwise, meself and the lad are off to town tomorrow in search of a pub with Sky Sports to see the Wolves v Birmingham game. It's always a horrible, horrible fixture, easily the most violent (off the field) on the Championship calendar, but there's just a chance the heroes in gold and black could go nine (yes, NINE) points clear at the top.

It's all bound to go nastily wrong, but football's all about dreams - and we might have a nice lunch too.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Dairy dunce

Listening to: Accidental Anarchist (The Levellers)



This looked like a bad idea from the moment the very nice tea trolley bloke plonked it on the table in front of me on the 8.39am from Thurso to Inverness.

"Teas, coffees, sandwiches, beers*, refrrrrreshments," he cried as he trundled past me.

The pig "farmer" was in an especially good mood, having managed to catch a ferry to Thurso, find a decent pint in a town that would be most at home in a Douglas Adams novel, get up in time for both breakfast and a train, sitting back to enjoy the snow-covered moors and lochs of Caithness through a pretty murky window.

The coffee came black, I picked up the little plastic sachet thingy and dutifully tore where it said "tear here". The dotted line was exactly a millimetre away from where it needed to be.

I tore again - a little lower.

I wiped milk off my chin and turned to the second sachet, supplied presumably as a back-up. At arm's length, I carefully eased it open and got most of the milk into the cup, the rest ending up all over Harry Redknapp (see pic).

I've just consulted this website only to discover the perpetrators are from just down the road from where I used to live. Who said crap stuff didn't follow you around?

You've probably already guessed that none of the expected disasters occurred. I got to Aberdeen no problem, met The Boy, drank my own bodyweight in beer not once but three times, watched a quite poor Scotland side run up 41 points against a bunch of Canadian students, slithered around in the snow and slush, enjoyed a delightful walk along the snow-covered seaside. . .


. . . and got a Sunday night boat back to Kirkwall before a Monday morning return to Westray where I'm now in detox.

* yes, beer before 9am - this is Scotland after all.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Get me to Aberdeen

Listening to: See No Evil (Television)

It seemed such a good idea a couple of months ago when The Boy and I agreed to meet up in Aberdeen this Saturday for the Scotland v Canada rugby game at Pittodrie.

We bought the tickets, booked his flights from Devon and happily looked forward to it.

I forgot about winter in the north of Scotland. The severe weather warning was issued on Tuesday morning. Apparently it's going to get cold - very cold. And windy too - very windy.

I set off from Westray this morning (a day earlier than planned) and it didn't bode well when, on arriving at Kirkwall, the hydraulic ramp on the boat got stuck and took 15 minutes to fix. It looks like being a long trip.

All ferries off Orkney to Scotland are now 'under review', so I'm killing time in the library, preparing to set off into the increasingly chilly outdoors in search of a ferry that may or may not exist.

Please send chocolate and Kendal mint cake.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Ladies' man

Listening to: Hancock's Half-Hour
Surf: Big and scary - not that I've been in the water in ages
Wind is from: the north
Monkeys: of the brass variety
Severe: weather warning for Friday/Saturday
Obviously because: I'm off to Aberdeen for the rugby on Friday

As an opening gambit in a potential close relationship it wasn't promising. Molly certainly wasn't impressed at having her rear end sniffed, not once, but several times.

Molly wasn't in season, therefore in no mood for action, but that didn't deter Boss the boar (Boss Hog - geddit?) from sizing up the goods. He wasn't aggressive in any way, just very curious and obviously happy to have some company.

Moll had been pretty good. At first light, I got her away from her paddock which, after the recent rain was on the point of turning into a boating lake. With a little coaxing, she got into the trailer and was well-behaved if a little fidgety on the way to the ferry.

The hour-and-a-half crossing was on the bouncy side and, on inspection on the quayside at Kirkwall, my girl had been sick and was now cheerfully slurping up the evidence. The pig "farmer" revised plans for a large sausage and egg sandwich.

On arrival at the farm at Orphir - about halfway between Kirkwall and Stromness - she hurried indoors out of the rain to meet her beau.

Garry - Boss's boss - and I left them to it and, apparently, they're getting on fine, even if Molly has been playing hard to get.

In the mean time, some of the young pigs will be off to slaughter at the beginning of January and, as some of the pork will be going in our freezer, I started looking up vacuum packing gizmos.

I was very surprised to find this. This seems a very long time ago - mercifully.

If you ever wondered what to do with your empty Coke cans. . .

Friday, 14 November 2008

Eeeeeuw!

Listening to: The great Seamus Heaney on Radio 4
Weather: soggy mess

Sal got back from work this evening, laid a fire while I got the tea ready, kicked off her shoes and slipped into her slippers (well, what else would you do with slippers? Don't answer that, boarding school kids).

Only something had got there first. There was an obstruction.

"Goodness gracious," Mrs P"F" didn't exactly exclaim, holding the slipper at arm's length.

I had a look and inside was an ex-mouse. It had ceased to be, bereft of life it would have been pushing up the daisies if it hadn't found somewhere warm to sleep off an extra large helping of the blue pellets we laid down about a week ago. (I know it's not nice, but we were getting overrun).

I dumped the body in the black bin bag and had a look inside the slipper. The mouse must have been there some time so it was all a little gooey. Sal got busy soaping her foot - I think the slipper may need something a little stronger.

* I was brought up short a week ago when I heard an old friend and colleague had been found dead. Andy Donkersley was a good, decent human being, a bloody fine reporter, diehard Huddersfield Town fan (a proper football club), loyal friend and good company.

I won't go on as my old pal Reg Pither has put it far better than I ever could, but the world is a poorer place for Andy's passing.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Mrs Pig "Farmer" gets the ferry - part 43

Listening to: Saor (Afro Celt Sound System)

We arrived with ten minutes to spare. No panics, enough time to have a natter while we watched the ferry come in.

Except that the natter started like this:

"Did you give me the car keys?" (We keep our best car over in Kirkwall where Sal uses it for work while I chug around in a variety of MoT failures).

"Err. . . no. I thought you had them."

"You had the car on Friday to go and see that boar. Where did you leave the keys."

"Bugger. In my coat. Sorry."

I shoved Sal out of the door and, with 14 minutes before the ferry was due to leave, headed for home, caning the poor little Fiesta along the island's main road, battering the suspension up our lane and hurtling inside* (OK, I walked briskly - hurtling isn't really an option with my knees) where I retrieved keys.

Skidding back out onto the road, I narrowly missed wiping out Keith from the haulage firm and pulled up on the jetty as the ferry was pulling in.

Mrs P"F" was suitably impressed, but I can't begin to imagine what this stress is doing to my blood pressure.

* I got out of the car first - it wasn't some sort of a ram raid.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Molly's man

Listening to: Crocodiles (Echo and the Bunnymen)
Weather: Wet, windy, can't wait to go out

The big guy snorted, snuffled and took not much notice of us at all. I was over on Orkney Mainland, running the rule over the Saddleback boar who arrived from Cumbria last week.

He finally got up and strolled around the pen in that kind of first-thing-in-the-morning way.

The words 'big', 'huge', 'hairy', 'plums' and 'maracas' sprang to mind. He's certainly the business and my sows will be going over to 'see' him shortly.

He really is hairy. No pix yet, but he's in the same league as. . .


. . . or. . .


. . . or even. . .


Molly's such a lucky girl.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Harley Davidson purple washing machine

Listening to: Riverflow (The Levellers)

Marcus is at the front door with bad news.

"Someone's complained about your pigs. I've heard you've been reported for animal cruelty."

I stand, open-mouthed, wondering if this is a joke, but Marcus is deadly serious.

"Who, what, when, how?" I splutter.

"I don't know, but I was told last night and I thought you should hear it. I'm sure it's nobody from the island because there's nothing wrong with the pigs and people here would know that."

I can feel the rage rising, almost choking my words. The paddocks in the bottom field are wet and muddy, but the pig shelters are dry and there's fresh bedding every day. The pigs are fed and watered twice a day and get their fair share of ear-scratches and back rubs.

"Are you sure there's nothing wrong," I ask, confidence crumbling.

"No, you're looking after them fine. Just wait for the inspector to get in touch and deal with it then. It'll be all right."

Marcus leaves and I try to keep a lid on my feelings. I can't remember being so angry. I'm hurt, uncertain and a bit paranoid.

A call to Sal calms me a little and I decide to meet the problem head on. I phone Animal Health in Inverurie, The SSPCA and the environmental health department at the council. All are pleased to hear from me, but none have heard even a whisper of complaint. The whole business takes about three hours.

Mystified, I go and adjust the paddocks in the bottom field - no harm in giving everyone there a bit more space. Then I go to reassure Marcus, who had looked worried at being the bearer of bad tidings.

I suppose I'll never work out what happened and, a few days later, I'm not worried. Chinese whispers maybe, someone getting the wrong end of the stick. It's probably wise to treat it as a kick up the backside, something to keep me on my toes and prevent me from getting complacent.

POSTSCRIPT: I don't want anyone to get the impression that this was anything other than a temporary upset. I'm now absolutely convinced it's a misunderstanding and the number of people on and off Westray who have heard about it and said nice things since has been heart-warming. Thanks.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Crackling - is there anything it can't do?

Listening to: Dream For Me (The Accidental)

The little black kitten was in big trouble. When he crept out of the weather into the workshop to pinch a little of Trevor's food, he can't have imagined he'd end up being pulled by the neck by Spike and by the back legs by Midge (another new arrival).

The pig "farmer" managed to get the dogs off, but the panic-stricken kitten dashed straight into a closed door and the terriers got hold of him again. Owen the collie/spaniel cross was flapping about like John Inman in the middle of a Rugby League game.

The kitten was moments away from coming apart so the pig "farmer" did the only thing he could, he grabbed a large piece of wood and hit his best friend on the side of the head - quite hard.

Spike fell back and seemed only too happy to hurry into the house, followed by Midge and John Inman. I looked back to see the kitten lying, panting on the floor, seemingly unable to move.

I went to shut the dogs in only to find Spike's bowels and bladder had given up on him. . . all over the utility room floor.

His legs wouldn't work properly either.

Trying suppress panic at the thought I'd maimed my dog, I cleared up and got Spike settled down in a bed in front of the fire. He seemed a little better, but still couldn't walk properly.

I checked on the kitten, but he'd gone - I kind of assumed he'd gone off to die. I went into the kitchen to get tea ready. I gave the crackling a tap and snapped a bit off, glancing down to see an all-too familiar face looking up adoringly at me.

"You had me really worried, you little bastard," I muttered, handing the miraculously fit and well Spike an extra-big bit.

* Midge is my stepdaughter Amy's dog - part terrier, part chihuahua (!) - he's a bit frightened of his own shadow, but he's cottoning on that there's no real dog heirarchy here (Spike is kind of top dog as he's the cleverest) and, as you can see, he's settling in just fine.


Oh yeah, the next day I went into the barn and spotted the kitten rummaging about, looking for mice behind the straw bales. He never stopped to say 'thanks'.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Catching up is hard to do

Listening to: Rock'n'roll (Led Zeppelin)

The wind got worse. . . and was accompanied by an electric storm which knocked out most phones and all broadband connections in Westray and most of the other islands in Orkney.

Ferries were cancelled and, by the middle of Saturday, the winds had reached hurricane force (that's over 70mph apparently) and it was a battle to stay upright outside.

The pigs, wisely, hunkered down and emerged only for food, delivered at an angle of 45 degrees by a windswept pig "farmer".

The weather eased through the week and, pig arc apart, there was little damage, although the phone wasn't fixed until yesterday and the broadband wasn't back with us until a very polite lady at BT told me to switch it off and switch it back on again this morning.

As we struggle back to normality, my stepdaughter Amy has arrived with horses Jessica and Dotty. Having got used to Teddy and Merlin, it was a real shock to see proper sized horses. At 16 hands-plus, they're a bit scary. However, they do look lovely. . .


. . . don't they?

Dotty (the brown one) is from Crossmaglen in the former bandit country of County Armagh, while Jessica is Hung-g-garian. . .



There's a nasty rumour going round that the pig "farmer" is going to learn to ride.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Pig arcs might fly

Listening to: Clampdown (The Clash)
Weather: rain/hail/sunshine/gales/more rain/stronger gales/even bloody bigger hailstones

A handy tip for finding a pig hut in the middle of a gale - follow the trail of wood.

At 10.30 last night, with a force 9/10/whatever hammering away at the front of the house, I felt it might be an idea to check the pigs in the bottom field.

Eric and I had put up another pig arc (like a little nissan hut), I'd driven in a couple of fence posts and screwed the panels to it, then Sal and I had moved Kim the sow down to her new quarters.

That lasted only a few hours as I got to the field only to find a large, not too happy pig and no pig arc.

Having asked the usual "where the bloody hell is the pig arc?" questions, we led Kim, who was good as gold, back to her old hut behind the house. Then it was out into the fields with the torches to find out what had happened.

The arc end panels and some timbers were still lying in the bottom field, but the large metal panels were nowhere to be seen.

We found one of the skids (so you can move them around!) in the top field - that's the other side of the island's main road. I put the wind to my back and walked up the field, finding a dislodged fence post at the top and then a snapped timber in the next field.

I crossed three more fields and there was still no sign, but, reassured there was no chance the flying hut could have hit anything/anyone/a cow, I went to bed.

At first light I retraced my steps and there it was, battered, leaning up against a fence, the best part of a mile from where it started off and only a couple of hundred yards from the sea and the start of a voyage towards Norway.

Getting it back to the croft in such a high wind was out of the question, so it was a case of lying it flat and weighing it down with really big stones before taking it away for scrap next week.

So, to recap, the arc flew across the main road, crossed five fields, several fences and another road before giving up. The other - identical - arc is still in place, interestingly enough. Although I've added some more timber to hold it down.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Autumn days

Listening to: There Is Power In A Union (Billy Bragg)

I should be outside. The pigs need feeding. The hens need feeding. The ponies need to be put out. I still have 100yd of potatoes to lift. I have to move Kim to the new hut in the bottom field. I have to make a start on converting the old cattle byre into a stable for my stepdaughter's horses who arrive in a couple of weeks.

I'm not doing any of that. I'm drinking tea, listening to the free CD that came with last month's Mojo magazine, surrounded by dogs who, having been out for their morning constitutional, have gone back to bed.

Outside the wind is whipping around the house, the rain occasionally slapping against the windows. The forecast is for it to rise to Force Eight or Nine and probably stay that way well into next week.

It's autumn in Westray and, after a beautiful summer, we are again getting used to Mother Nature going through the full repertoire.

Yesterday started with bright sunshine highlighting views over a lively Westray Firth towards Rousay and Orkney Mainland, the waves crashing over the reef that extends out from the west side of Westray. The island at its very best.

Trying to get things done was another matter and by the time Eric came to help me put a pig hut together, the wind was strengthening and Mainland had disappeared as showers moved towards us. By the time we had realised that all three drill batteries were flat, it was time to get out of the rain and get a brew on.

The job got done in the end, the increasingly strong wind tugging at our hair (well, mine anyway) and by the time I went to collect Sally from the ferry, dark clouds were bringing an early dusk to the island.

The barn door rattled through the night (the pig "farmer" having failed so far to find a way of wedging it tight shut) so Sal is enjoying a lengthy lie-in.

OK, deep breath, woolly hat and big boots on, sod the weather, I'm off out.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Seconds to go

Listening to: Cast of Thousands (Elbow)
Weather: high winds, showers

Mrs Pig "Farmer" hurried onto the ferry just as they were about to raise the ramp.

Five minutes earlier (08.44) I'd been in the driver's seat, gunning the engine, wondering where the hell she'd got to.

Red-faced, she tumbled into the car and said, by way of explanation: "The phone went and had to answer it to tell them I was too busy to talk."

!!!

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Kitchen

Listening to: Thought so. . . (Nightmares on Wax)
Weather: wind and getting windier

He made that kind of sucking sound beloved of mechanics and (in this case) builders. He shook his head a couple of times and added a "tsk" by way of a finishing flourish.

"Have you thought about knocking it down and building a new house?" he asked. Sal's bottom lip was wobbling badly as she told me the verdict over the phone. I wasn't surprised - the surveyor had left me no illusions. Woodworm, damp, inadequate roof, rotten doors and windows.

That was getting on for three years ago when we first bought the croft. Needless to say we didn't take the advice, but there are times when I can see where the builder was coming from.

Westray is dotted with the ruins of old croft houses, while many more are reduced to agricultural buildings. Many folk here are moving into kit-built houses - easy to build, equipped with all the mod-cons, good in a gale, lacking in any soul whatsoever.

But character comes at a price and progress on the renovation is glacial. I've tried not to set myself deadlines, but I had hoped to get the kitchen and one bedroom sorted out by the winter (Mrs Pig "Farmer" and I sleep in a caravan parked in the barn).

Ho ho, bleeding ho.

When renovating an old house, double the amount of cash you expected to spend and treble the length of time.

We started work on the kitchen in July, stripping the timber off the wall, breaking up the rough concrete floor, digging down so we were left with nothing more than a hole in the ground. . .


It's not the sort of job you can do on your own, so work goes in fits and starts.

In a tortuous week, the concrete base for the floor was laid and a few weeks later Eric and Big Tall Paul helped me sort out and lay the stone slabs, while Pete the plumber started work on the solid fuel burner and central heating system.

Here they are before we did the pointing (you can see Sal and I have been working around the chaos). . .


Then Eric and BTP surprised us by sneaking in and replacing the existing kitchen window and adding a second while we were on holiday in Edinburgh.

It's been a bit of a pain in the backside fetching water from the bathroom to do washing up, so it was a great relief when Eric came round this week to get the sink plumbed in and to give me a hand with rendering the stone wall at the end, leaving us with this. . .


. . . still some way to go, but a work in progress. The ambition is to have Christmas Dinner there - don't hold your breath.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Runs in the family?

Listening to: Combat Rock (The Clash)
Weather: wind hammering the front of the house

My mum visited us in Westray for the first time last month. She travelled by train from Exeter to Aberdeen, took the ferry over to Kirkwall before moving on to see us - pretty fair going for an 80-year-old.

The force is certainly strong in the old girl and her mind is still sharp as a tack, even if she has fully embraced the 'mad old lady' thing. A lifelong academic - she was one of only a handful of female undergraduates at Trinity College, Dublin in the late 40s - she spent a good bit of time studying in in the family history section of Kirkwall Library.

Among the Irishmen of various shades of orange, a smattering of English Midlanders and the occasional 'continental' in my family background is my mother's grandfather James Bews, a farmer from Tankerness on Orkney Mainland.

I won't bore you with the mass of information unearthed, but Mum traced the family back to the mid-1700s, discovering in the process that James was running the family farm at the age of 15 before heading south in 1879. His silver medal for ploughing, won in 1874, is on display in Kirkwall's museum.

We did a little tour of East Mainland and found the old house and, after asking permission from the current tenant, took a few pictures which, obviously, won't be appearing on t'int.

What Mum didn't find was any living relative - possibly a good thing, although it would have made for a more interesting blog post than this is turning out to be. All our close family in Orkney are in Tankerness Hall cemetery. . .


That's my great, great, great grandparents. . .


. . . and that's my great grandfather's little brother. I was interested, although I can't imagine you would be.

I've no idea what this is all meant to mean, although I suppose it does give me some sort of blood tie to the place - if that's important.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

The long and the incredibly short of it

Listening to: The Ghost That Carried Us Away (Seabear)
Weather: Wet, south-easterly wind

There's a new inmate on the croft. Teddy - now recovered from his foot problem - is, just for a change, feeling a little on the large side.

Merlin, a Shetland owned by our neighbour Mike, has come to stay. He was lonely, Ted was lonely, so it made sense.


Yes, he really is that short. Look. . .



When he first went into the field, Kim the sow - who rarely pays much attention to anyone or anything that doesn't involve food - got up, came out of her hut and could hardly take her eyes off him with a "What the fu. . .?" expression on her face. I know how she felt.

He's a lovely lad, really friendly and he's getting on with Ted like a house on fire (or should that be horse on fire. . . and why do you get on with someone like a house on fire anyway? Seems a bloody silly phrase now I think of it).

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Betty

Listening to: Last Man Alive (The Levellers)
Weather: Greyish, kinda moody, a few bright patches
0-3 defeat: Normal service resumed in Wolverhampton
Thanks Rosemary: for pointing this one out

I'm barred from using the phone, particularly to call Rachel on 07930 550821.

Rachel works for a TV production company called Betty (!) who are planning a documentary series on people starting out as smallholders/farmers, especially those raising rare breed animals.

I know what you're thinking and I'm way ahead of you, but Mrs Pig "Farmer" has strong views on the subject, strong views along the lines of "over my twitching corpse".

I looked at Betty's website and they seem a reputable company, their past efforts including 'Addicted To Boob Jobs', 'Diary of a Porn Virgin', 'My Breasts are too Big', 'Short Angry Men', 'Desperate Virgins', 'Let's Talk Sex' and 'Britney's Redneck Roots'.

Can't think what Sal's worried about.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Getting back to my roots

Listening to: Bullets (Tunng)
Weather: wet, bright, wet, breezy, wet
Pig weigh-in: Johnny Ramone 113lbs

There's a lot of talk about superfoods these days with scientists or magazine editors discovering every five minutes some magic fruit or tree bark that will make us all live to a ripe and miserable old age.

It will come as little surprise that the pig "farmer" has little truck with goji berries and spirulana, even if he knew what they were. We've got our own superfood here on the croft a few inches under the soil and in increasing numbers in sacks in the barn.

Ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding for that hero among foods. . . .

(long unnecessary and irritating pause just like when they announce results for TV gameshows)

. . . THE POTATO.



It's not only because I have an Irish mammy* that I love the spud or tattie, as I'm learning to call it. There's something for everyone from the finest chefs to the pisshead stumbling home balancing a bag of chips in one hand and a can of Special Brew in the other.

Fair enough, some of the veg patch competitors may have the edge in looks. . .



or. . .


. . . but when it comes to veg, I'll be dating the plain bird every time.

And if you're talking about superfoods, what could be more super than a food that has been a staple in Europe for the best part of 500 years? Yeah, wheat, I grant you, but you get what I'm driving at.

I don't recall any time in history where thousands, or millions even, died as a result of a failure of the blueberry crop - or because of a shortage of pork, for that matter, although I understand the Great Scratchings Shortage of 1867 caused a few worried moments in Dudley.

My veg growing has been largely experimental this year, getting used to the difference of weather, light, soil between Shropshire and Orkney, but I put in almost 300m of potatoes, planting five different varieties so we have spuds for salad, boiling, mashing and so on.

Next year I'll plough up an acre and a half and the temptation is to put it all to spuds, but we all know where reliance on one crop gets us.

"Patrick, the potato crop has failed and the bastard English have sold all Ireland's grain supplies so we have nothing to feed the children."

"Ah feck**, Liam, didn't I tell you to plant some butternut squash and pak-choi and introduce a rotation system. Now there's no choice but to go to America."


(I can't believe I just made light of the Famine - that's me off Gerry Adams' Christmas card list.)

Anyway, potatoes are great, but you know that already.

* Actually it's hard to imagine anyone less like an Irish mammy than my mum, but she's a mammy and she's from Dublin, so there.

** Nobody in the 1840s would have used 'feck' like that. It used to be a slang word for steal or even throw - Dermot Morgan has a lot to answer for.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Peedie pigs

Listening to: Symbol In My Driveway (Jack Johnson)
Weather: dry, cooler
Surf: 3ft, clean

Mrs Pig "Farmer" has got Olympic fever and is already training to get in on the inevitable gold rush that will follow in 2012.

I haven't the heart to tell her pig chasing isn't one of the events.

You've no doubt noticed that some of the pigs are out and about, enjoying the fresh air and green grass in the bottom field.

Five of the boys had outgrown their section of the pigshed, the toilet facilities leaving something to be desired, so it was time to move.

As always, a combination of my dithering and the difficulty of actually getting the hardware over to the island meant this all took a lot longer than it should have, but I finally got a hut put up (thanks to Eric), a fence erected (thanks to Marcus) and the electric wire hooked up (all by my little self).

I backed the trailer up to the pigshed door, Mr Hotel Proprietor came up to help and I shook the feed bucket to tempt the lads out. Three of the Ramones (Johnny, Joey and Deedee) and Padraig had no problem with the idea of breakfast in the trailer, but Briggsy needed some considerable coaxing.

A bit of patience got the lad loaded up and we trundled down the lane to the pigs' new quarters. Once out of the trailer, Sal spread more feed out and the boys tucked in while I tightened the electric fence and switched on.

Once they realised they were outside, the lads began a nervous exploration of the paddock, all huddled together in the manner of an under-9s football match.


Eventually they found the electric wire.

Zapsqueak!

Pause

Zapzapsqueaksqueak!

Zappityzapzapsqueaksqueal!

. . . and repeat.

A sort of pig pinball.

Eventually four of the pigs realised staying inside the (quite spacious) paddock would be wise, but Johnny Ramone was slower on the uptake.

He zapped his way out and then back in and finally out of the paddock again, jogging off down the field with Mrs P"F" in pursuit.


I gallantly sat down to watch, Sal seeming to have everything under control as she headed Johnny off and encouraged him back to the paddock.

The pig "farmer" repaired the electric wire, switched back on and went to write a letter to the BOC.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Can we have peas with that?

Listening to: Seldom Seen Kid (Elbow)

The birthday girl chews thoughtfully and says: "Hang on, it's a faggot*."

We're in Martin Wishart's restaurant on Leith waterfront and on very best behaviour. The pig "farmer" has a new shirt on.

Dinner Chez Pig "Farmer" is generally something like this. . .



. . . so it's a bit of a culture shock to find ourselves in one of Edinburgh's finest restaurants.

We've booked in for lunch and expect the most basic of treatment - the menu is dead simple, two choices for each course, so we expect a light lunch with a glass or two of wine.

Having ordered they decide we need to be kept out of trouble and are presented with a dish of 'nibbles' including a curried cabbage tartlet (about the size of a 50p), a pumpkin mousse (very nice indeed), what appeared to be a Subbuteo** football stuffed with something mushroomy and what the waiter described as "a haggis bon-bon" (!).

I really like haggis, but Mrs P"F" has always shied away, so this is a first and, true to form, she says the first thing that comes into her head, quite loudly.

Resisting the urge to order curry sauce, we press on through another little extra (a foie gras creme brulee), game ravioli, a squid ink risotto, beef shin, celeriac mash, cod loin, chocolate beignets and ice cream. We have a cracking time that becomes more cracking the further down the pricey, but excellent bottle of Argentinian Viogner we progress.

I pay the bill without a tremor and we head off for pints of real ale, taking in a couple of 'sights' from the Rebus novels on the way.

Neither of us feel too good on the Aberdeen-Kirkwall ferry next day.

And the pig "farmer" got gravy (sorry - truffle jus) down his shirt.

* faggot = a sort of pig offal meatball, a speciality of the Black Country in the English Midlands. Usually served with peas.

** Subbuteo = a table football game, the name coming from the Latin name for a hobby - a bird of prey. Geddit?

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Fence

Listening to: What Is And What Should Never Be (Led Zeppelin)
It's gone: all grey and murky

I'm in the bottom field and Marcus is showing me exactly where I've gone wrong preparing to put up a fence. The middle strainer is a bit out of line, giving the fence ever such a hint of a kink. And as for the gatepost. . .

That apart, it's a terrific way to spend the afternoon (as long as you watch your fingers). It's sunny and breezy - Westray at its very best - and Marcus takes great delight confusing me with snatches of Orkney dialect.

In an attempt to seem all enthusiastic and to try to head off another embarrassing moment when asked to hand over a flange gusseter or somesuch, I ask the name of the excellent gizmo Marcus has, a chain with two grips and a handle which he is using to tighten the fence.

"Ah yes, those would be fence tighteners."

"Oh."

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Cool as a. . .

Listening to: Glasvegas (Glasvegas)
Weather: sunny and windy

It's 8.23am, the ferry is due in at 8.45 and Mrs Pig "Farmer" has a meeting in Kirkwall almost as soon as it arrives in town.

She's still in her jammies.

"Err. . . have you seen the time, sweetheart?" says the pig "farmer", trying to sound all nonchalant.

"Yep," says Sal, unfolding the ironing board and sounding not bothered in the slightest.

She's already mucked out Teddy, made toast and coffee, ignored my offer to make her sandwiches and made them herself and spent a good 20 minutes admiring the kitchen tap she bought in Kirkwall earlier in the week.

She irons her work clothes in 46 seconds, has what must be her third wash of the morning and changes.

She climbs into the passenger seat, looks at me as if to say "What?" and we turn out of the drive at 8.39.

Five minutes later we roll up at Rapness pier, the ferry is running a couple of minutes late and, with the choppy conditions, takes a while to dock.

"See! We made it - no problem."

"Yeah - right."

Sunday, 7 September 2008

UN v the pig "farmer"


Listening to: We'll Live And Die In These Towns (The Enemy)
Uh-oh: he's ranting again

The ice caps are melting, Morpeth in County Durham is under water, millions are on the brink of starvation, thousands of species face extinction. . . dear God, that crappy film with Kevin Costner might be right.

Now it appears it's all my fault. At least that's according to a scruffy man with a beard and a dodgy comb-over by the name of Rajendra Pachauri.

By all accounts he's the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - one of the United Nations' gravy trains - and therefore can claim to be the UN's top climate scientist.

Obviously it's a post of some importance and influence and he's about to start a second six-year term - can't for the life of me remember voting for him.

Raj has taken a look at the global warming problem and, rather than tackle major industrial powers or pick a fight with India and China, he reckons the reason polar bears are up shit creek is down to the farmers.

"Meat production represents 18 per cent of global human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, including 37 per cent of global methane emissions, which has 23 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide and 65 per cent of nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide."

So says Raj and that 18 per cent figure is pretty shocking. What I doubt are his answer to the problem (eat less meat) and his motivation.

What has red lights, sirens and alarm bells ringing chez pig "farmer" is the fact that Raj is a strict vegetarian. Of course he wants us all to eat less meat. He doesn't want us to eat any at all.

Raj would, of course, rather see the world turned into a desert by the overuse of agri-chemicals which would be necessary in the face of the march of vegetarianism, the collapse of a balanced form of agriculture that stood the test of thousands of years and have farmers put out of business (some almost before they've got started) in their thousands.

Yes, the dramatic clearance of rainforests for meat production in South America and Asia is wrong, but rather than talk to governments about their agricultural policies and what they can do to bring about a more sensible, sustainable way of farming the land, Raj has decided it's time to push his own misguided beliefs. Using your (no doubt very well paid) post to do that is unacceptable.

I'm all for reducing the amount of crap meat that is produced and eaten. I'd heartily endorse any global boycott of McDonald's, KFC, Burger King or the Flamin' Tasty kebab shop in Walsall.

But to give the impression that eating any kind of meat is harmful to the environment is ludicrous. British farms are reducing methane emissions year-on-year, local produce is becoming more fashionable, organic produce is edging its way gradually towards the mainstream, more and more people are becoming aware of food miles.

Instead of cutting back on meat consumption, maybe it's a good idea to be more selective. Buy your meat from a good local butcher, preferably one who can tell you which farm the beast came from - a good butcher will be only too happy to talk to you about his produce. . . go to a farm shop or a farmer's market. . . order direct from the farmer (my e-mail is on the sidebar). . . avoid intensively-reared meat. . . sack Rajendra Pachauri.

Monday morning note: Please don't misunderstand me, the threat of global warming must be taken seriously and that 18 per cent figure is a real shocker. But to come up with such a trite "solution" just because (a) animals fart a lot and (b) the boss man is a strict vegetarian strikes me as, at the very least, ridiculous.

I'll carry on recycling, using public transport whenever I can and so on, but I expect people with real power to come up with some real solutions.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Car, egg, face

Listening to: The Ghost That Carried Us Away (Seabear)
Weather: sunny, if a little breezy
Surf: barely a ripple

The little £400 Ford Fiesta we bought as an island runabout had developed a knocking sound that got worse the faster it was forced to go.

"Bugger, it's the driveshaft," thought the sort-of pig farmer - a man whose knowledge of motor mechanics is right up there with Orville the Duck.

We ran the rattling, hammering little thing up to the island's mechanic - a top bloke who knows his stuff and is pretty cheap. My hopes were not high.

The next day my phone rang.

"Is that Malcolm?"

"Yep. What's the verdict? Tell me the worst."

"A couple of wheel nuts were loose."

"Ah."

Memo to self: to avoid extreme embarrassment, check all the obvious stuff first.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Come dine with me

Listening to: Takk... (Sigur Ros)

Kim has been out on her own in the paddock at the back of the croft for several weeks now. Pigs are social animals and I worried that she would be lonely, but I needn't have. . .


Meanwhile, there's bad and good news for Molly. The boar on the island (a rather handsome Tamworth) is unavailable so she's going to have to keep taking the cold showers for a while.

However, Orkney's other Saddleback breeder is due to take delivery of a boar in a few weeks. I've offered to buy a share or to rent him (a rent boar?) to show both sows a good time. Watch this space.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Happy Wanderer

Listening to: Takk... (Sigur Ros)
Birdwatch: Wheatears fluttering up and down the lane
Sorry: I'm banging on about sport again

Football - or, more accurately, Wolverhampton Wanderers - has been a part of my life for just about as long as I can remember.

Like anyone who supports a club whose best days are behind them (Wolves' seemed to end the moment I was born), I've had my fair share of heartache. I haven't been to a game for the best part of three years, so results come and go with little more than a philosophical shrug. Regular readers will have gathered I much prefer rugby these days.

But once in a while the chaps put a great big smile on the pig "farmer's" face. 5-1? 5bloody1? Not only that, but top of the league. I know we're only four games into the season, but isn't this the best time to top the Championship? Glory while the weather's still good and plenty of time (42 games) to escape promotion to the bathtub of pirhana fish that is the English Premiership*.

One small snag. The 5-1 happened to be at the expense of Nottingham Forest - favourite team of my dear pal Reg Pither. Took the shine off it a bit. I feel for him (yeah, I know that's a bit patronising, but I do, so there) not just because his lot got thwacked, but also because he lives in. . . Wolverhampton. Saturday night in the pub must have been fun.

I sent Reg what I hoped was a light-hearted text, but I've had no reply so can only assume he's wisely gone to ground. However, pictures have been released of his reaction at full-time. . .



Sorry mate, could happen to anyone - time to get those European Cup DVDs out and blot it all out, I think.

* I've come to the conclusion that the winners of the Championship should be allowed to be promoted into the league of their choice. Portugal anyone?

Saturday, 30 August 2008

GSOH required

Listening to: Traffic In The Sky (Jack Johnson)
Lifting: spuds
Finally: edible carrots

Lonely heart. . .

Single Saddleback sow, aged two, NS, WLTM mature boar-about-town for adult fun and occasional outings. Interests include eating, growling, busting through fences, being generally awkward and giving the sort-of pig farmer a hard time.

Please someone - Molly needs male attention. . . desperately.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Dr Pig "Farmer"

Listening to: Trumpton Riots (Half Man Half Biscuit)
Isn't: rendering hard? The kitchen project progresses at glacial pace.
Gordon: just doesn't get it, does he?
No: Great Britain football team for 2012 (it's a long story and when you've got an hour I'll explain, but it's definitely a bad idea).

I squirted a bit out of the tip (steady!) only to find the bubble was still there. I fiddled around a bit, squirted again and that did the trick.

I looked for an appropriate bit of pony to stick the needle into. I made a hasty call to Mrs Sort-of Pig Farmer who was just out of the pool in Kirkwall (that Rebecca Adlington* has a lot to answer for). The shoulder would do, the vet had said. I explained to Sal that pigs were really my field of expertise.

"I have got the right stuff - ACP?" . . . "Think so" . . . "Not NCP, RAC, BNP**?" . . . "Very funny, you pillock."

Ted has, we think, a bit of laminitis. I should have done something earlier. Marcus asked if Ted was stiff last week and if he was getting too much grass (Ted, not Marcus). I had a look at the lad and gave him a painkiller which perked him up.

Come Friday, Ted could barely stand so we coaxed him into the stable and he seemed a little better, but by the time this morning rolled around, there was no real improvement. A call was made to the vet in Kirkwall, symptoms described and serious thinking done.

I nipped down to one of the general stores in the village, picked up the syringe, needle and medicine (just like you do in downtown Wolverhampton) and so found myself trying very hard to look like I knew what I was doing so as not to alarm an already unhappy pony.

Ted was good as gold, letting me put the needle in without the slightest flinch. He's now in a drowsy half-sleep in a big bed of straw. Fingers crossed.

* Rebecca Adlington is the British swimmer who won two gold medals at the recent minority sports festival in China.

** One of these organisations is an extreme right-wing, racist bunch of twats, another will send someone to fix your car when it breaks down. Careful if you spot Nick Griffin changing a wheel.

*************** And yes, I enjoyed the Olympics (especially when the Irish started winning medals for hitting people), but there's nothing apart from a firing squad that will get me to watch for the next four years cycling, sailing, rowing, hoss leaping or any of the other deeply middle class sports for the wealthy that are out of the reach of so many schools and a huge majority of working class British children who will never be given a chance to even try these sports. Elite sport stinks - because funds are all diverted to the top, for every Hoy or Adlington, there are thousands of kids excluded from finding out just how much fun sport can be, whatever their ability.

Thank you for listening - and don't bother to disagree, I'll only start again, because for once (and this is really rare) I know I'm right.

TUESDAY MORNING. . . sorry for starting an argument all by myself (must lay off the late-night cheese), but the sight of the (unelected) Prime Minister smirking away as the athletes came off the plane was more than I could bear.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Monday in the capital of the Highlands

Listening to: Sanctuary (The Cult)
Off the mark: Ireland at the Olympics
RIP: Ronnie Drew (founder of The Dubliners)

The massive tour bus had dropped the Italian tourists two streets away from their hotel and they were picking their way through the "Victorian" market in Inverness.

With their suitcases bumping along behind them, they sought to avoid breakfasters spilling out of the cafe clutching plastic cups of weak coffee and bags already losing the unequal struggle with the grease, workers hurrying to grey jobs in dull offices and the sort-of pig farmer on the lookout for a morning paper and a decent cuppa.

Oh yeah. . . and the bloke lying spark-out across the entrance. I think he may have had a drink. Not unusual if you live in a city or our house, but the Italians seemed surprised all right.

A uniform approached him, stuck out a foot and gave him a prod. "C'mon pal, you cannae sleep there." Nothing.

The uniform then bent down and gave Captain Comatose a shake. Still nothing. He got on his radio and mumbled something, maybe calling for back-up from the smelling salts squad.

The sort-of pig farmer decided there had to be a limit to his voyeurism and strolled away pondering the ever-expanding role of traffic wardens in UK cities.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Red, red whine

Listening to: I Sing I Swim (Seabear)

OK, keep the noise down, no naked flames, stand well back, make sure the toilet is available at all times - the pig "farmer" has a hangover. In fact, I haven't felt this bad since the day after Reg Pither challenged me to a game of vodka snooker in Wolverhampton's Revolution Bar.

Mrs SPF and meself tied one on last night and I broke "The Rule". We had friends around and the beer ran out at about midnight. I should have called it a day, made a nice cup of tea and toddled off to bed.

Instead, like an idiot, I opened a bottle of red wine and we got stuck in. I vaguely recall our friends leaving and the only indication I went to bed is that I woke up there this morning. Mrs SPF is an interesting shade of green and is spending altogether too much time in the bathroom.

I may never drink again.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Silver lining

Listening to: Seed (Afro-Celt Sound System)
Weather: warm, sunny
Off to: the beach

We had a bit of bad news yesterday. For the last few months Sal has been working as a social worker for Orkney Islands Council. It was a short-term contract which finishes at the end of the month.

She settled in well, loved the job and the indications were that she would be offered another contract. Sadly, the money's run out at the council and the short-term contract did exactly what it said on the tin. So Sal's going to have rather more time on her hands than she hoped come the end of the month.

We've no complaints - we always regarded any extension as a bonus - and the upside is that Sal will be on Westray all week. That's good for me, good for her and good for her dad Ray, not to mention the animals.

Every cloud etc. . .

Now that Sal isn't going to be earning, I've been kind of thinking I should do something I haven't for 18 months - bring in some cash.

I watched Bonekickers* on the telly the other night and I'm guessing the BBC are even more desperate than usual. I reckon I could come up with something similar in my lunchbreak.

So here it is, coming soon to a once-great national broadcasting corporation near you:

SWINEHERD.

He's a tough, uncompromising, crimebusting pig farmer pursued by the demons from a tortured past. He hates his boss, his boss hates him. He doesn't play by the rules. He drives a quirky car (I'm thinking Series One Land Rover). Only one woman can tame him. . . and so on and so forth.

All I need now are some plots, more characters and casting, as well as what the tortured past is.

Any ideas? (If that doesn't see the comments dry up, nothing will)

* You can catch up with Bonekickers - a "drama" about tough, uncompromising archaeologists (!!!) - on BBC's iPlayer. I recommend you don't.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Happy stuff

Listening to: Dog Train (The Levellers)
Hoping for: sunshine in Shropshire

Mrs Sort-of Pig Farmer and father-in-law Ray are away in Shropshire for today's wedding of her nephew Tom to the lovely Shelley. I would have gone, but the pigs get airsick.

Tom is a smashing lad and son to my great pals Martin and Kathy (who joined me surfing with the seals here last autumn and usually give me a bed on trips south).

Unusually, the groom's dad is making a speech, so Mart has been sweating over a hot keyboard with the Bumper Book of Wedding Jokes at hand.

He somehow found time to send me this link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I4n--IXg6HY

Thanks Mart. . . and love and good luck to Tom and Shelley. Keep Mrs SPF away from the tequila. We don't want another Workington incident.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Author! Author?

Listening to: Cookie Jar (Jack Johnson)
Anyone know: how to mend a toilet flush thingy?
Weather: bright and breezy

A quick reading recommendation (prompted by a recent comment by 123...123's Ziggi). Scenes From A Smallholding by Chas Griffin is a great read and not just for smallholders/crofters/allotment holders.

Chas and his family bought a smallholding in Wales in the early 1990s and have had all the pitfalls we've found and many more. It's funny, sensible and when friends (who have more faith in my writing ability than I do) suggest I write a book, I point them in Chas's direction. Buy it, read it, then read the sequel More Scenes From A Smallholding.

Chas doesn't really understand pigs, so he'd be no help with our latest problem. We tried to put Molly outside again yesterday, into the nice paddock with Kim.

She wasn't having any of it, turning and running as soon as Kim emerged. We tried encouragement, bribery, force - nothing worked. So she's back in her pen in the pigshed and we need that space. I tried to put the two gilts Little Kim and Sock in with her, but she became very aggressive.

So I'm back to gradually integrating the boys. Kim's Deedee and Tommy are in with Molly's Briggsy and Padraig, while Kim's other two boys Johnny and Joey will join them in a day or two. Then we'll look to getting them all outside - after all, it's proving to be a lovely summer.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Pipe

Listening to: Altamont (Echo and the Bunnymen)
Elbow is: throbbing
Popping: painkillers like Smarties
Now: the end of my finger has swelled up
I'm not: a hypochondriac really

It's nice to have things you can do as a couple - helps keep a marriage strong, I believe.

Mrs Sort-of Pig Farmer was towering above me. I was in a trench, covered in mud from the waist down and water was seeping into my boot.

"Can you see where the problem is yet?"

That's the trouble with a private water supply - lovely and romantic, but you've got to fix it yourself if it goes wrong.

Marcus was topping the bottom field (cutting the grass to tidy up and stop weeds spreading) the other day and damn nearly got his tractor stuck on a marshy patch between the pump house and the main road, right above the pipe that supplies the house.

We had a chat and, true to form, Marcus got to the heart of the problem within a couple of minutes, swiftly digging a hole to expose the pipe and a suspicious looking joint. All we had to do was mend it.

I spent the best part of two hours trying to deal with it. The pipe wasn't fixed properly to the joint and the two sections didn't seem long enough to allow it to be fixed properly. I pulled, pushed, wiggled, jiggled and swore loudly.

Mrs SPF came down to help.

"There are two joints there and the bit inbetween is about an inch short. Just unscrew it all and replace it."

"Oh yeah."

We found some black pipe around the back of the barn, I cut a bit off, unscrewed everything, put it back together with the new piece, switched the pump back on and watched as water gushed out everywhere.

Bugger.

I got back in the trench, fumbled around in the two-foot deep water and managed, eventually, to detach everything again. The new pipe was too big. We didn't have any of the right diameter so it was back to the old piece and more of the aforementioned pulling, pushing etc.

Eventually, with a lot of patience, we emerged damp, muddy and smug at having managed to fix something ourselves.

There's a big difference in the water pressure too, especially in the caravan where father-in-law was nearly blown backwards out of the shower this morning.

And Mrs SPF thinks I'm really clever even though she had all the best ideas. Result.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Hay ride


Listening to: Empty (The Cranberries)
Struggling to get into: Viking, Odinn's Child (Tim Severin)

I'm hanging on for dear life as the small platform on skis I'm standing on bumps across the field. Being a fat bloke with skinny bloke's legs, balance has never been a strong point and now I'm more painfully aware of the fact than usual.

We're getting the hay in. I'm actually dead excited. The place feels like a real farm with a couple of tractors and - for a change - some real farmers about.

Marcus cut the grass a few days earlier, Mike had already been up once to turn it and now it's time to bale it up. Marcus is driving the tractor, pulling a 30-year-old baler with the ex-1976 Winter Olympics sledge thingy on the back.

Richard takes first turn, standing confidently in the manner of Nelson on the quarterdeck - although, with just the one arm, Nelson might have struggled with pulling bales out of the back of the machine and stacking them on the five prongs behind him.

I'm stuck in a sort-of cheerleader role - trying to look useful by gathering up missed clumps of hay and holding the bales steady as the little pyramids are unloaded from the back.

Richard can tell I'm itching to have a turn and hops off at the end of the next row, leaving me to jump aboard the moving platform in the manner of a 1930s western movie hero swinging himself out of the saddle onto the train where the bad guys have the heroine hostage.*

Anyway. . . I'm now fighting forces that are threatening to throw me off, while at the same time trying to grab and stack the bales in the same effortless manner that Richard had shown moments earlier.

It's a hot day and the sweat is running into my eyes by the time we come into the third row. It's not a pretty sight, but I'm managing. I have to get the stacking right first time because once one bale has been stacked, there's another being thrust towards me. Twice I get it wrong and a bale gets stuck under the platform, so I have to shout and wave for Marcus to stop so the now triangular bale can be retrieved.

With the sun glinting off the sea and a stiff southerly breeze, it's brilliant fun and there's nowhere I'd rather be. Even so, it's a relief when, some time later, Richard takes over for the last shift. My arms are aching and my elbow has reminded me it's not at all well.

A couple of hours later we have about 200 bales - not bad for a field that has had no dressing this year. Marcus takes 100 and we stack the rest in the barn, unsure exactly what we're going to do with it.

* In hindsight, I wonder what happened to the horses abandoned in the desert, not to mention several hundred quid's worth of tack.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Does this hurt?

Listening to: All My Colours (Echo and the Bunnymen)
It's: a hazy day today

I'm in the surgery and I'm not filled with confidence when, after some time spent pulling and prodding my injured arm, the doc looks up 'elbow' on Wikipedia.

Resisting the temptation to point at the offending joint and ask "is this what you're looking for?" I wait for his considered opinion.

I've been suffering ever since I delivered piglets Spot and Splodge to Sally's colleague Toni at Marwick on Orkney Mainland. Spot, an easy-going customer, had required the minimum of wrestling to get him from trailer to pen, but Splodge was about as co-operative as the Thatcher government discussing the coal industry.

I climbed in through the trailer's front door, grabbed both legs and heaved him towards the opening. As I inched back out, he took advantage of a moment's lack of concentration and pulled the other way - hard - slamming me down on the floor of the trailer, my left elbow taking most of the impact.

The day after I was sore everywhere, but once everything else had eased up, the arm was still giving me considerable problems, so I reluctantly took Mrs Sort-of Pig Farmer's advice and booked in at the quack.

Using the picture on Wikipedia to explain (see, there was a perfectly logical explanation after all), he tells me he doesn't believe it's broken, chipped or cracked, but I have damaged the tendons and muscle and it's going to be sore for a few days. Strap it up, take the painkillers and grit teeth, basically.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Pig-shed hen RIP

Listening to: Nothin' (Robert Plant and Alison Krauss)
Weather: fog

Death is a fact of life on the farm/croft/smallholding, but that never makes it any easier to handle.

One of the hens had marked herself out as a real individual. She had given up laying and on many holdings would have found her way into the pot. But we operate a 'no dropping dead unless given express permission by the sort-of-pig-farmer who happens to be a big softy' policy.

As a result, this one, at least, was going to get a long retirement. She had moved out of the henhouse (mostly to escape Adam's amorous advances) and lived off spilt or leftover pig feed.

So I felt upset and guilty when I found her dead in the pen with Kim's six piglets. We had tried to discourage her from going in with the boisterous piglets, but nothing worked and I can only assume she was caught up in the general rush for feed yesterday morning. Her body was pretty battered, but the piglets hadn't tried to eat her.

Many farmers, smallholders and crofters are hardened to the death of animals. One crofter-blogger who breeds Berkshire pigs seems to revel in showing how tough he is (I haven't read his blog since he illustrated how quickly piglets grow by posting a picture of three dead ones he'd been keeping in his freezer. Weirdo.)

I'm very much at the soft end of farming and I make no apologies for that. To me, it's impossible when you have only a few animals not to get attached and, even though I have an irrational fear of hens, I really liked Pig-Shed Hen. She made me smile and the place is all the poorer for her absence.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Fine day

Listening to: Nothin' (Robert Plant and Alison Krauss)

"Fine day," said my neighbour as I set out to the shop to pick up the milk.

The clouds were winning their battle with the sun, a sea mist was threatening to blow in and the wind was getting up.

But there was the smell of freshly cut grass on the wind. I had watched Westray's southerly neighbour Rousay duck in and out of the mist as I sipped my first coffee of the day.

Strolling around to let the hens out and feed the pigs I took a detour to the veg garden and looked to the North as what little remaining sunshine there was reflected off the sea towards Papa Westray.

Pigs were grunting happily, hens and chicks scratting around contendedly, spud plants are looking healthy, cabbages are ready for the pot, lettuces are green and crunchy, radishes the best I've grown, shallots and onions coming along fine, swede and leeks not too bad (don't mention the beetroot), Mrs Sort-of Pig Farmer is back from Kirkwall this afternoon, while the Scottish Nationalists gave "Labour" their just desserts in the Glasgow East by-election yesterday. Hell, Wolves have won one and drawn one on their pre-season tour!

A fine day indeed.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Pig Daddy

Listening to: Truth and Lies (The Levellers)
Weather: damp and windy
Don't touch: it hurts
Here's one: for all you grapple fans

"Hang on, you're an office worker, you bloody idiot!"

My body sometimes talks to me like that. I was in Kirkwall and my arms were in spasms after my introduction to all-in pig wrestling.

"I can't pull the handbrake on," I said, through gritted teeth. Mrs Sort-of Pig Farmer obliged, then handed me a bottle of Lucozade.

The SPFs were out and about delivering piglets and everything was going pretty smoothly. True, the piglets had refused to follow the bucket into the trailer and I'd had to pick them up one-by-one, squealing and wriggling (the piglets, not me) and drop them into the small, but perfectly formed Ifor Williams trailer, while stepson Pat stood guard. But we had got down in time for the ferry and made all our rendezvous with the minimum of fuss.

Extracting the piglets proved to be just as tricky as putting them in, involving me climbing in the front door of the trailer grabbing a leg and hauling reluctant, protesting animal out. There were 12 to deliver and each time I felt as if I'd done a couple of rounds with Giant Haystacks.

I'd have been all right had I not spent the previous two days mixing concrete. We (stepson Pat, friend Eric and myself) were putting in the kitchen floor, the first step in the renovation of the house. Sal always tells me I charge straight in, bull-at-gate style, and then wonder why I'm in pain afterwards. She has a point, but I don't quite see how you can ease yourself in when mixing concrete.

Anyway, the upshot was that after three days of very physical activity, I had not only the highest respect for builders, labourers and real farmers, but arms that wouldn't really work.

On the plus side, 12 of the piglets are now settling in to new homes and the croft has some income. Two jobs well done.

A little light weeding today, I think.

* A couple of references may be incomprehensible to non-Brits or anyone under 40 who never saw the wrestling on World of Sport. I suggest you Google Shirley Crabtree.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

It's only rock'n'roll over on Papay

Listening to: End Of A Century (Blur)
Back: home
Covered in: cement (I'll explain later)

Nearly exciting.

Sunday newspaper hacks have landed on our next-door island Papa Westray in the hope (forlorn as it turns out) that Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood would (wood wood? would wood? woodward?) turn up on the island.

I didn't see the News of the Screws on Sunday, but apparently the wrinkly rocker (old habits, sorry) decided not to go on the family painting holiday (!) and popped out for a few drinks. For most of us these days, a bender amounts to seven or eight pints of Guinness and a large plate of lamb chana with extra nan bread.

A bender for young Ronald appears to be going missing for a couple of weeks and getting prolonged jollies with a 20-year-old Russian cocktail waitress. It could be none of this is true - it was the Screws, after all.

Russian cocktail waitress is said to have family over on Papay. Yeah, I know - hard to believe, but it was on Radio Orkney this morning, so I'm running with it.

Consequently, Her Majesty's Press have found Orkney on the map, gone "bloody hell, bit remote isn't it" and turned up on an island of 50 people with no bar. Serves 'em bloody right, I say.

If Ron is reading this (could happen) then I'd be delighted to meet up in the bar of Cleaton House for a jar - and we can discuss just how bad an idea the New Barbarians were.

But Mrs Sort-of Pig Farmer says I've got to be home by next Tuesday.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

The pig farmer is stood up

Listening to: Melting Pot (The Charlatans)
Isn't it: noisy down south?

"Sorry mate, won't be about this weekend after all - going to London."

I have that effect on people.

I had been due to spend an evening in the company of my old chum Grantham New Town's Reg Pither. We'd planned a few beers, some heavily spiced food and then back to his to gather around the gramaphone to listen to Now That's What I Call Oompah Music 36.

Then the text came. A bit of a blow, but the pig "farmer" bounced back and, rather than wander the streets of Wolverhampton sobbing "why, Reg, why?" I called Mr and Mrs W and I'm now cosily tucked up aboard HMS Ark Royal, the only sofa visible from outer space.

I also caught up with some old pals. Big Danny, Little Dave and Medium Jim reminded me just how much fun I could be having if I was still working as an evening newspaper hack. Later I have a feeling I invited everyone in the Combemere Arms to spend the rest of the summer on Westray - may have cause to regret that one.

So, despite at least seven pints of Guinness and a Chinese lemon chicken, I'm remarkably perky and the day is my own until I meet my 15-year-old at 6pm.

What shall I do?

Thursday, 10 July 2008

South

Listening to: Oro Se Do Bhaeatha' Bhaile (Dubliners' version)
Killing time: before a haircut

There's always something. No matter how long you spend getting stuff ready for a trip (in my case a single bag of clothes), there's always something left behind.

This time it's socks. I have a comfy pair of Hi-Tec work socks on my feet, but all others are sitting in what I fancifully refer to as my sock drawer in the caravan, in the barn, on the croft, 20 miles away on Westray. And tomorrow afternoon they'll be 600 miles away.

Nuts.

I'm away south for the first time in. . . err. . . six months? My lad is 18 on Monday so I don't want to miss out on the chance to let him buy me a pint or two.

I'm in Kirkwall at the minute, but it's off and away via Aberdeen and a sock shop to Birmingham, then an overnight in Wolverhampton to catch up with old chum Grantham New Town's Reg Pither (stomach pump in attendance) and off to Shrewsbury to see the offspring.

I'll be back on Westray on Wednesday, ready to lay the concrete floor in the kitchen, but just for a few days it's good to get away.

I can't remember whether I've said this before, but folk on our part of the island refer to a trip to the village as going 'north', while going 'south' could be just about anywhere beyond Kirkwall. So 'north' is Pierowall and 'south' is the equally important rest of the world.

There's something so right about that.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Every one's a weaner


Listening to: Never Mind the Bollocks (Sex Pistols)
Tonight's pork recipe: chilli
Worn: out

Ray was at the window waving his arms in the manner of a race course tic-tac man (or should that be 'tic-tac operative' in the 21st century?). "Misty Dawn at 5/1 in the 2.30?" I translated, before correcting myself. "The pig's got out again."

Bugger.

The farming learning curve is at times steeper than the north face of the Eiger. We've had a tough day on the croft after we decided to take the sows away from the piglets.

At feeding time yesterday we coaxed first Molly out into what was Eric and Ernie's paddock, then Kim followed the feed bucket around the house to join her. We connected up the electric fence, flipped the switch and all seemed well.

The piglets seemed unmoved, quite happy to tuck into their tea and carry on snuffling about the place as if nothing had happened. (I seem to remember a similar situation when I was first sent to boarding school at the age of nine - it took half-a-term for the novelty to wear off and homesickness to kick in).

Kim was happy enough exploring her new surroundings, grazing and then making herself comfortable in the hut. Molly finished her feed and then went all wobbly on us.

She has always been dominated by Kim and was clearly not comfortable as a room-mate. She was obviously agitated and after Sal tried to comfort her, we left her alone in the hope she would calm down.

There are times when you wish your animals wouldn't display previously hidden talents, but Moll seems to be an expert escapologist.

After tea we checked outside and she had ignored Scottish Hydro's finest zaps from the fence, had bust straight out and was munching away at the camomile that is growing next to the paddock.

She was tempted back in and I tightened the fence again, but she broke out again ten minutes later, this time more jumpy that before.

She resisted all coaxing and we had to put her in Teddy's "stable". In reality this is a series of wooden obstacles (including an old futon) and sheep hurdles tied together with baler twine. Molly spent the rest of the night grumbling and banging away at the barricade. Neither myself nor Sal slept much.

I ran Sal to the airport this morning and, on my return, I sat down to a coffee - the cue for Ray to make his first appearance at the window.

Molly had bust out and was munching happily at the grass outside Ray's caravan. I decided to try putting her in the camomile by the paddock. Fence it off and put the trailer in as a temporary shelter, I thought, and she'll get used to the idea of sharing with Kim.

I threw up some temporary barriers and tried again with the coffee. Ray was back, looking more worried and a little out of puff. It seems our porcine Steve McQueen had made another break for it and had been hurrying down the lane towards the main road when my 79-year-old, 5ft and not very much, 8st wringing wet father-in-law had jogged past, heading her off.

He'd lost track of her when he came to alert me, but we tracked her down to the veg garden.

We put her back, threw up some more barriers and Pat and I dashed down to the village for more fence posts and wire. We returned and were pleased to see fence and barriers still intact. Trouble was: no pig.

She was in the veg garden again, lurking around the pigshed door. There was nothing for it but to put her back in. To make a spare pen we had to put all the piglets in together. Quickly it resembled Wolverhampton town centre at closing time on a Friday night.

We tidied out the space in the middle of the pigshed (tools, straw bales and other farming detritus) and Kim's piglets were hauled, squealing, into their new quarters. Molly was ushered into her new home and was more settled straight away. Everyone was fed and seemed happy and the pig "farmer" went inside to collapse on the sofa.